Sustainable Fish Harvest

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Harvest limits for wild fish and other marine animals protect these stocks for the future. Of the 155 major stocks assessed in 2014, 153 (99%) were harvested at levels considered to be sustainable. Two stocks (1%) were harvested above approved levels.

There are two methods for setting fish harvest levels. For 67 stocks (43%), there is sufficient historical information to set the level using the mathematically based removal reference, while the harvest levels for an additional 86 stocks (55%) were set using other scientific approaches.

The number of fish stocks harvested within approved levels has improved since 2011, when 16 stocks (10%) were overharvested. The improvement is in large part due to the implementation of Sustainable Fisheries Framework Policies.Footnote [1]

Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, Canada, 2011 to 2014

Column chart

Long description

The column chart shows the proportion of major wild fish stocks in each of three categories from 2011 to 2014. The proportion of stocks harvested above permitted levels has decreased steadily from 2011 when 10% of stocks were over-harvested, to 2014 when 1% of stocks were over-harvested.

Data for this chart
Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, Canada, 2011 to 2014
YearAt or below removal reference
(number of stocks)
At or below other approved levels
(number of stocks)
Above removal references of other approved levelsFootnote [A]
(number of stocks)
2011687116
201264847
201364874
201467862

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The removal reference is a harvest rate that is estimated to be biologically sustainable, based on an analytical assessment of historical stock productivity data. Major stocks were harvested above the removal reference and/or approved levels primarily in competitive fisheries or because of landings in other directed fisheries. Percentages may not add to 100 due to rounding.
Source: Fisheries and Oceans (2015) Fishery Checklist version 4.

Overharvest sometimes occurs when fishers compete for a share of the total allowable catch, or when fish are caught as bycatchFootnote [2] in another fishery. For the two stocks over-harvested in 2014, mackerel and walrus, management responses from the federal government include reducing the total allowable catch in the mackerel fishery and developing a full integrated fisheries management plan for walrus.

Major stocks (freshwater and marine) are classified using a consistent set of criteria, and include all stocks with a landed value of more than $1 million or a landed weight of more than 2000 tonnes, as well as other important stocks (see Data Sources and Methods for details).

The key decisions in fisheries management are how much of a stock should be harvested and by whom. Harvest rates include all removals of fish (i.e., targeted fishing and bycatch mortality) by all types of fishing. Limits are determined using a precautionary approach.Footnote [3] When scientific information is uncertain, unreliable or inadequate, decisions must still be taken and the absence of adequate scientific information should not be used as a reason to postpone or fail to take action to avoid serious harm to the resource. "The precautionary approach to fisheries recognizes that changes in fisheries systems are only slowly reversible, difficult to control, not well understood, and subject to changing environment and human values."Footnote [4]

Harvest rates are reported against the removal reference as a baseline in cases where a removal reference is known. The removal reference is an approach for determining the maximum acceptable removal rate for the stock when there is sufficient historical data on stock productivity to allow the level to be estimated analytically. As Fisheries and Oceans Canada continues to implement the precautionary approach, removal reference levels are established for more stocks. Fifty-three stocks (34%) have fully defined removal references, and a further 27 stocks (17%) have removal references defined for one or two of the three stock status zones (i.e., critical, cautious and healthy). While most of the major stocks have had some components of the precautionary approach implemented (76%), only 22% have had all components fully implemented.Footnote [5]

Sustainable fish harvest, by stock group

Stocks can be grouped based on similar biology. For this indicator, Canada's major stocks have been grouped into eight categories. Of the eight stock groups, six are currently harvested within limits.

The two stocks overharvested in 2014 are being addressed, including through reassessment of the allowable catch. In 2013, 4 of 46 groundfish stocks were overfished. These four stocks were subject to quota reconciliation, meaning that the 2013 overharvest was deducted from the harvest limit for 2014.

Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, by stock group, Canada, 2014

Stacked coloumn chart

Long description

The stacked column chart shows the number of stocks by harvest rate (above removal reference or other approved levels; at or below other approved levels; at or below removal reference) for each stock group (marine mammals, groundfish, small pelagics, large pelagics, salmonids, crustaceans, molluscs, and others).

Data for this chart
Number of major stocks harvested relative to approved levels, by stock group, Canada, 2014
Stock groupSpecies includedAt or below removal reference
(number of stocks)
At or below other approved levels
(number of stocks)
Above removal references of other approved levels
(number of stocks)
Marine mammalsWhales, walrus191
GroundfishHalibut, rockfish, cod, flounder, hake, redfish, dogfish, haddock, lingcod, perch, plaice, pollock, sablefish, skate, thornyhead18280
Small pelagicsHerring, mackerel, whitefish, capelin, sardine, striped bass, gaspereau, eulachon4171
Large pelagicsTuna, shark, swordfish310
SalmonidsSalmon, char, trout1340
CrustaceansCrab, lobster, shrimp, prawn, krill17180
MolluscsClam, scallop, whelk, geoduck880
OthersSea cucumber, sea urchin, eels310
Total 67862

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How this indicator was calculated

Note: The species in each stock group are listed with the chart data. Pelagic fish live in midwater or close to the surface, in contrast to groundfish, which are usually caught near the ocean bottom. Crustaceans are shelled animals with joints, such as lobster, crab and shrimp. Molluscs include bivalve shellfish species, such as clams, oysters and mussels, which we commonly think of as shellfish.
Source: Fisheries and Oceans Canada (2015) Fishery Checklist version 4.

Some species and stock groups are more difficult to monitor than others. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working to improve stock status reference points and control harvest levels through the adoption of the precautionary approach.

Related indicators

Other information

Theme III icon
This indicator is used to measure progress toward Target 5.1: Sustainable Fisheries – Improve the management and conservation of major stocks of the Federal Sustainable Development Strategy 2013–2016.

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